16 November 2019
My first book by Claire McGowan, THE OTHER WIFE is a deeply disturbing domestic thriller of a different kind filled with lots and lots of secrets, lies, infidelity, deception, family drama, coercive control/abuse and some totally unreliable narrators. So if you don't mind spending some time with some really unlikable people, then you are sure to enjoy this twisted yet deceptive ride.
Told from the alternating perspectives of Suzi, Nora and Elle it is immediately clear from the beginning that all is not as it seems in the lives of these three women. And while the three women are seemingly unconnected, it didn't take me long to work out just how their lives did intertwine. The pace is slow to begin with, but stick with it because it all begins to make sense quite soon, pulling you right into their web of lies.
Under the facade of working on their troubled marriage, Suzi's husband Nick moves them to a remote cottage in the country after a drunken indiscretion with a colleague, forcing her to give up her job in London. Nick, of course, could continue to commute by car but Suzi, now 6 months pregnant, is completely isolated with no access to her own money, transport or friends. He is incredibly jealous and while he never laid a hand on her, he controlled Suzi in other ways.
Before moving into their cottage, Nick had it gutted and completely renovated into their dream home...or so Suzi thought. What he actually did was turn it into a complete prison that monitored her via CCTV, controlled via an app on his phone which was linked to a hub at home that would randomly play music, whisper her name and change the codes for the locks on the doors. It was all cleverly designed to make Suzi think she was going mad and ultimately relying on him completely.
But Suzi is harbouring secrets of her own. Finding herself jobless, friendless and completely isolated...until Nora moves into the cottage across the road...she knows she shouldn't share them with anyone, let alone someone she barely knows...but Suzi is desperate. And so she confides in Nora about the married man with whom she'd had an affair, and after discovering she was pregnant, he'd decided to leave his wife to be with her. But now months after that promise, she has heard nothing from her lover despite anxiously trying to contact him, only to discover his number no longer connected. Had she been duped? Had she scared him off? Surely he wouldn't leave her without a word. But Nick knew none of this. He only knew of her one drunken liaison that preceded their move.
In the short time she had known Suzi and her husband, Nora suspected that had Nick known about this affair, Suzi's life would take an even more sinister turn. Nora was fairly sure that Nick was abusing his wife via coercive control and yet while she had no proof, she knew the signs. But what was she to do? She had her own reasons for moving into this musty little cottage. Should she get involved or let Suzi dig her own grave?
At first, Nora seems like a practical sort. She's strong and capable and just the type of person one could trust. But Nora has secrets of her own...some of which that have remained hidden since childhood. So just how credible does that make her? Should Suzi be trusting her with her secrets? There is something a little dark about the recently widowed Nora, almost calculating even, which is somewhat removed from the dowdy middle-aged persona she seemingly and outwardly appears. But there is more to Nora than meets the eye. And then something changes when she probes into the death of her husband...and her target for revenge shifts.
Then there is Elle, a former concert pianist married to a successful doctor. The perfect wife with the ideal husband, Elle tries in vain to keep her faded beauty alive and looking attractive for Patrick on a daily basis. She is obviously clingy where her whole life revolves around him. But does he appreciate her? He is constantly home late without a thought for his wife. Seemingly unconnected to Suzi and Nora, how does Elle factor in to the tale with the other two women? There is so little seen of Elle you don't really grasp her entirely but to do so would have given the game away...although there is just enough to have you questioning her role in it all.
It didn't take me long to form my suspicions regarding the three women which in turn proved to be correct...and yet, there are still so many more twists and turns to keep you guessing right up to the end.
There are a few occasional chapters from the POV of Alison, who is a detective investigating the discovery of a body found nearby, leaving us questioning how that fits into the story. Whose body is it? And how did they get there? There are plenty of possibilities as we journey through the lives of these women, and on this point my mind was constantly changing as to who it could be. Alison's narrative is rather brief and somewhat sporadic that it is difficult to get any real sense of her. It was this and the addition of another police presence in wanting to question Suzi that confused me a little, as I wasn't sure which investigation they were alluding to...despite being months apart. Had Alison featured a little more it may have been easier to follow that line. But not to the point that that it interfered with my overall enjoyment of the book.
My one fault I could find was the phone Nora swiped from Nick. Could she not then use the app installed on there to override the control Nick had over Suzi? It seemed there was no real mention of it after that, except in the briefest of references. And I'm happy to find that nothing untoward happened to Poppet, though I was saddened finding him so frozen cold from the arctic conditions. I don't believe I am spoiling anything here because as an animal lover (especially dogs) I want to know the outcome of their plight prior to reading, for nothing else but to be prepared.
Well-plotted with short, snappy and alternating chapters, THE OTHER WIFE builds slowly to begin with but soon unravels quickly leaving an intriguing trail of clues to follow through the bleak slightly Gothic atmosphere. The ice cold wintry ambiance of the setting merely adds to the trapped feeling of isolation.
THE OTHER WIFE certainly has a creepy sinister vibe throughout that has you questioning the roles of who is bad and badder? Something is mostly definitely not right and the tension is palpable as the story slowly builds and gains momentum, with pieces of the jigsaw gradually unearthed for the reader to make sense of.
There are a couple more narratives that are added later in the story which will shed even more light as secrets are unravelled. Then the ending is the piece-de-resistance and I felt was the perfect touch, even if slightly unbelievable, bringing the whole sorry tale to a brilliant fitting conclusion.
Suzi may have done a bad thing...but what is it in Nora's past that she is hiding? And who is the father of Suzi's unborn baby? And what is Nora's motive for moving to such a remote locale? Just how much does she know about Suzi...and how? These are just some of the questions you will ask yourself as you journey through the lives of Suzi, Nora and Elle in THE OTHER WIFE.
What began as a domestic thriller ends as a revenge tale, THE OTHER WIFE is a perfect combination of thrills and twists entwined with plenty of secrets, lies and deception you will not be able to put down!
I would like to thank #ClaireMcGowan, #NetGalley and #ThomasAndMercer for an ARC of #TheOtherWife in exchange for an honest review.